Specs: Tron Legacy, Alan/Quorra, 4500 words
Etc: Follows Waking Up
“Beat three eggs. With a fork. Like this.”
“I know how to beat eggs.”
“Don’t stir them, beat them! Whap whap whap!”
Saturday afternoon, and Alan was actually treating the day like a Saturday for a change. No spending the day at the office anyway, or working here at the house. He wasn’t dressed save for some sweatpants, he had some music playing, and he was currently watching Quorra’s ass sway gently back and forth as she stirred the contents of her mixing bowl. She’d pulled on one of his t-shirts and nothing else, and no matter the angle or what she was doing, the view was pretty damned fantastic.
“Did you want to put the chocolate chips in the muffins?” he asked, pouring his beaten eggs into her bowl. She mixed them in, and he watched her breasts jiggle.
“These are scones, not muffins.”
“They are not!” She stuck her finger down in the batter and held it out for him to sample; he sucked on it a little longer than was necessary to clean it of the batter, but from the look on her face, it didn’t look like Quorra minded. She’d done some sucking of her own this morning, giving Alan one of the best blowjobs he’d ever had. He wondered if it was her way of telling him that she was willing to do things for him she didn’t really want to do, and that he should return the favor.
But he wasn’t going to think about that today. He wanted to enjoy the day without worrying about changing diapers or taking a walker to a ball game. So he leaned against the kitchen counter and watched as Quorra stirred in the last of the flour, and dumped the dough out, and started to knead.
“I’m making an executive decision,” he told her.
“Is that so?”
“You are allowed to wear my shirts and nothing else, from now on.” She smiled at him, big and toothy, and he kissed her. Let his hands roam over her body, and all of this was still new enough that he felt like he was doing something a little naughty. She tried to tell him something, forcing the words out between kisses.
“Do you mean the muffins?” She smacked him on the shoulder. “I’m serious – what is the difference? I will bow to your seemingly vast knowledge, my little baking ingénue.”
Quorra preened just a little, floured a square cookie cutter and started punching out her dough. “Well, muffins are cake-like in texture, while scones are more like biscuits. Muffins are round and cooked in papers, and scones are cut out and baked on a sheet.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I read some cookbooks.” Alan had been so caught up in his work as her sous-chef – and she was a hell of a taskmaster – that he hadn’t realized that there were no cookbooks here. She had been calling out ingredients with no reference at all; besides the scones, she’d also put together cookie dough, banana bread, and a chocolate cake. Alan looked around, expecting to see her phone out with the recipes on it, or maybe some print-outs, but there was nothing. Was she doing all of this from memory? Quorra saw him looking, stopped what she was doing. “Alan?”
He smiled at her, not wanting to think too much on the possible implications, not wanting her to notice anything. Poked the tip of her nose. “So scones are basically square crumbly muffins?”
“Don’t patronize me.”
“I’d never dream of it.” She finished getting her scones into the oven, and he wrapped his arms around her waist from behind. “I’m pretty sure there was a band in the 70s called Square Muffin.” Quorra laughed, throwing her head back with abandon, and Alan claimed her neck. Started pulling her in the direction of the living room.
“Alan. I have to watch the scones, they’ll burn!”
“There’s eight minutes on the timer. They’ll be fine.” She let him throw her down on the couch, and held out her arms as he climbed on top of her. Alan decided that Saturday was definitely the best day of the week.
Late at night, and he was fairly exhausted. Quorra could probably have gone another round or two, but instead contented herself with rubbing his back, occasionally dragging her fingernails through his hair. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt this good, this relaxed, and he was right on the verge of falling asleep, but he wanted to talk to her first.
“Quorra? What do you want to do?” He could almost hear her thinking. She seemed to be drawing on his back, her fingers moving in patterns, but he couldn’t tell what the shapes were – not letters. Lines of circuitry, maybe. The runes of the digital world.
“I want to see the ocean.” A few kisses between his shoulder blades, and then she rested her head there.
“We’ll drive down to the beach tomorrow. But I mean…what do you want to do with your life? Have you thought about it at all? What you want to do day to day?”
Now she was tracing symbols on his ribs. Her breath was warm and moist against his back. “I want to learn,” she said. “I want to read books, and do things – all kinds of things. There’s so much out there, and I don’t know any of it.”
Alan smiled into the pillow. “Okay.”
Quorra slept in, and it was hard leaving her all soft and rumpled in his bed, but Alan wanted to take care of something. He left her a note, and drove to Sam’s apartment. He didn’t understand why the kid continued to live in this place, since he could afford to live pretty much anywhere – though maybe that was the point. Alan parked in the back, as he usually did, and walked around. The main garage door was open, and Sam was sitting on the couch, taking in the view. At least, his eyes were pointed that way. Alan couldn’t tell if he was actually seeing much of anything. His clothes were wrinkled, and he needed a shave. It had been a long time since Alan had been able to sit down next to him, put an arm around his shoulders, and convince Sam to confide in him - but that's exactly what he wanted to do.
“Sam?” He didn’t look Alan’s way, didn’t even register that he’d heard. “How are you doing?” A sardonic half-smile, and Sam took a long draw off the beer in his hand. Still didn't say a word.
“Look, Sam, what happened with Quorra and me—”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he gritted out, still never looking at Alan.
“Okay. We won’t talk about it. We do need to talk about her future, though. She’s going to need identification, papers – have you started the ball rolling on any of that?”
Sam stood, beer sloshing out of the bottle. He wasn’t drunk, though – furious. Alan didn’t think he’d ever seen him this angry. “Did you, Alan? You’re known about her for weeks – did you get the ball rolling? Or were you just waiting around, hoping to see how I’d fuck it all up?”
Alan ducked his head, accepting the rebuke. “You’re right, Sam. I should have been getting things squared away myself. I don’t know why I waited, and why I didn’t say anything to you. I guess I just wanted to know how long it would take before you decided to tell me what happened to my friend.”
“He was my father! He meant more to me than he ever did to you, so drop the wounded puppy bullshit.”
“That’s enough, Sam.”
“I don’t need this, Alan! I don’t need you hovering around dispensing wisdom, acting like you know everything. I don’t need the fake father crap, and I never did.”
“She didn’t belong to you.”
Sam jerked back as though Alan had hit him, and he supposed that he might as well have. His cheeks had been red and splotchy, but the color faded, leaving Sam looking pale and ill. He set his beer down distractedly, wandered past Alan and out of the apartment. Stood there, his back to Alan, and when he spoke his voice was barely loud enough to be heard over the traffic on the bridge.
“I wanted to wait. I didn’t want to rush her. I thought one day I would come home and…she’d be ready. Or that one night she’d come downstairs to me. And the whole time, she was falling in love with you.”
There was a mixture of despair and self-loathing in the kid’s voice that cut Alan to the bone. Slowly, like approaching a dog who might be half-wild, Alan walked over to him, keeping a careful distance but making sure he could see Sam's face. He was a handsome kid, always had been. He took more after Jordan than Kevin, though there was something about the eyes that always reminded Alan of his friend. Maybe it was the way they both had of looking at the world as though it belonged to them, and them alone; that look that said that every challenge would be welcomed, and overcome.
There wasn't even a hint of that in Sam's eyes now.
"I didn't plan for it to happen, Sam."
Sam nodded, and then sighed. Letting it go, Alan could see. "She was with Dad for so long - he was all she knew. I guess her falling in love with you, wanting you, it makes sense." He looked at Alan, and there was a whisper of something beseeching in that glance. A plea. Alan nodded, even though it was a pretty shit thing to say - she just likes you 'cause you're old - and was glad to see Sam's face smooth out. He wasn't smiling, not exactly, but he looked...okay. On the road to being okay.
"She loved him, you know. Your Dad." Now Sam smiled, but the smile was quickly replaced with dawning horror in his eyes. "Not like that, Sam. Not like that. She was...a friend. A companion."
"I know," Sam whispered.
They stood there, and watched the cars come and go, the birds glide and dive, the sun glint off the water.
"Quorra?" Alan let himself in, hoping that she was dressed and ready to go. Although he'd mostly convinced himself he hadn't done Sam wrong, he still didn't want to come home from their talk and just jump right into bed with her. But if she was waiting for him, ready and willing... Alan just wasn't strong enough to resist, that's all there was to it.
But he didn't see her, waiting or ready or otherwise. All of her baked goods were neatly stacked in containers, and she had washed all the pots and pans up and put them away. He snagged a cookie, nibbled at it as he walked up the stairs. The thought occurred to him that she was probably still in bed. Maybe asleep - or maybe not. Maybe she was waiting for him, sheet draped over her body just so. Maybe she had already got started, and it would be up to him to jump in. Or watch. Feeling a very pleasant warmth in his groin, Alan took the few steps down the hallway to his room and turned the corner.
The bed was neatly made, and empty. So was the rest of the room, so far as he could tell. "Quorra?" No sound of water running - she wasn't in the shower. Alan continued down the hallway, poking his head into the other rooms, but they were just as empty as his bedroom. The house was quiet; he could hear the air conditioning, gently hissing through the vents. He could hear his own heartbeat, thumping along a little faster now. "Quorra?" he called again. He could hear the slightest quaver in his voice, thin and weak to his ears.
Back to his bedroom. The note he had written her was lying on the floor. He could see his own scribbled handwriting, upside down. Alan turned in a slow circle, seeing nothing out of place. Paused to check his phone - no messages, no missed calls. He was just about ready to leave when he noticed that his closet door was half-open. Cold fear blossomed in his gut as he walked over and opened the door the rest of the way. A moment, and all he saw was his closet. Suits and shirts and ties hanging in neat rows. Stacks of folders up top; six pairs of the exact same kind of shoe, in black and brown, lined up at the floor. His grandmother's quilts partially unfolded - one of them was pushed up against the door jamb, had kept the door from being able to shut. With fingers that felt thick and useless, Alan knelt to fold the quilts back up.
His old computer, now uncovered. Moved out from the back corner of the closet. Alan ran his fingers over the top of it, expecting the metal to be cold, but it wasn't. There was just the slightest bit of residual warmth, and he jerked his fingers away as though it were hot enough to burn. Alan didn't want to touch it. Whatever pleasant ache there'd been in his groin was long gone; his balls were tight, as though they wanted to crawl back up into his body. There was a sour taste in his mouth, and he could feel his pulse fluttering madly away under his left eye, a sensation so suddenly and totally annoying that he could think of nothing else. He rubbed hard at his cheekbone with the heel of his hand; his palms were sweaty. He rubbed them on his pants, then took the computer by the corners and dragged it out of the closet.
The fresh air did wonders, and he felt his mind clear up a little bit. Had Quorra been looking for something? Had she found this old computer and turned it on, intrigued? But there were no power cables, no way to hook it up at all. Alan was ready to shove the thing back into his closet when he saw it - one tiny LED. One single tiny LED, on the back, flashing a pale green.
Alan cleaned his glasses off on his shirt, sure he was hallucinating it, but he didn't need his glasses on to see that faint light pulsing. Alan screwed his eyes shut, counted to five - the last thing he needed to do was panic.
"Quorra, honey, when you get this, call me back immediately. I don't care where you are or what happened, just call me so I can come get you." Alan closed the phone, wondering why he thought message number three would do any good when numbers one and two had been met with silence. He was driving up and down the neighboring streets, keeping an eye out for that shock of black hair, sure that he would turn the corner and there she'd be, buying a paper or slurping down some coffee. But he didn't see her, didn't see her, didn't see her, and finally went back to the house, sure that she'd be on the front step, or cooking away in the kitchen, all smiles and winsome shrugs. But she wasn't there, either.
Then he paced, down the hallway and back, down the stairs, through his kitchen and dining room and living room, around that loop a few more times, outside and around the house, back to the front and down to the corner and back, inside and up the stairs to do it all again. Alan thought. What he wanted to do was call the cops and report her missing - but how? "Goddamnit!" he shouted to the empty house. Fucking battle of wills with Sam, that Sam hadn't even known he was a part of. A month he could have been getting Quorra a fake birth certificate, driver's license, social security card - all those little bits and pieces of documentation that were absolutely necessary for modern life. What could he do now? She didn't even have a last name, for Christ's sake.
So he kept pacing, up and down and around and back, checking his phone, trying to imagine where she could have possibly gone. He didn't think anyone had taken her. She wouldn't have gone without a fight, and he would have seen the evidence of that. But the idea that she would have just left didn't make any sense to him. Even if she had been seized with the sudden urge to leave the house for whatever reason, she would have called, or texted, or jotted something down. Alan pulled his note out of his pocket again, the paper crumpled, the ink blurry. Quorra, I have to run an errand this morning - I'll be back soon. Then we'll go see the ocean.
Alan sat down right in the middle of the stairs, unable to take one more step. His thighs were sore, and the small of his back ached. Too old. Too fucking old. He stared at his cell phone's screen, willing her name to appear, half-seeing it before his eyes unfocused and he had to blink.
He dialed, another number he knew by heart, but not hers. "Sam? Something's happened. I need you to come over, right now."
Sam was on his bike, driving around the city. Alan left him to it, not believing that she was at her and Sam's favorite little dim sum place, or the movie theater, or the arcade. But there weren't many places she knew, so Alan went to one of the few remaining they hadn't checked.
The Encom building was never empty, but late at night on a Saturday it was as close as it ever got. Alan checked in with security, asked a few vague questions; it didn't seem she was here. At least, she hadn't set off any alarms, and the guard on duty up front hadn't seen her.
Alan went to his office, to the boardroom, to the little bench in the mezzanine. He'd hoped he would feel a faint echo of her presence, some residual heat, but there was nothing. She was nowhere, and if he hadn't been able to close his eyes and still feel the memory of her body pressed against his, still remember her taste on the back of his tongue, Alan would wonder whether she'd ever been here to begin with.
Down to the servers, and he walked down the center aisle. He stopped, pressed his head against one. A low, steady hum - if the bits inside were talking, he couldn't hear them. Alan closed his eyes, pressed his forehead against the metal. He hadn't truly believed she'd be here, but knowing for sure she wasn't hurt. An ache just below his sternum, the ache he'd felt a hundred times over, every time he thought about Kevin. Gone, the both of them, snatched up by the hand of God right out of thin air. What if he'd come home ten minutes earlier? What if he hadn't left at all? What if he had answered Kevin's page that night, instead of waiting till the next morning? Would it have changed a thing?
A sound, from deep in the room. Metal against metal, and Alan's heart took off like a spooked horse. He opened his mouth to call her name but couldn't; the air was too still, too hushed. Thick and cloying, and he didn't have the breath to cut through it. Instead he looked the way he thought the sound had come from, and headed towards it as quietly as he could. No other sounds came from that corner, but the sense of someone there was strong. The hairs on his arms stood up.
He saw someone, in the shadows ahead, kneeling by one of the open servers. A half-second of overwhelming relief, and then he recognized the skinny figure. Junior. Alan watched as Junior fiddled with something, then stuck his head back down in the guts of the machine. Cables snaked from the server he worked on to another. With no reason, Alan was suddenly sure that wherever Quorra was, Junior knew, and was responsible.
"It's after midnight, Mr. Dillinger. What are you doing here?" Junior's head snapped up and banged against the bottom of the extended keyboard tray.
"Fuck! God, Alan, what?" Junior clutched the back of his head, and Alan stepped out of the shadows, hoping he looked imposing, and not weak and terrified like he felt. Alan just waited, watching Junior rub his head. "What are you doing here?" he asked sulkily. "Are you spying on me now?"
On another day, the irony of that question would have made Alan laugh, but he just looked closely at what Junior was doing. He saw it now - or at least thought he did - but he didn't understand it. Junior followed Alan's gaze.
"I'm patching in the new RAM. I can do it myself, you know. I had to hotswap to the parity-ready systems - no downtime. Wouldn't want those loyal Encom customers to have to wait a second or two before downloading videos of barking dogs, right?" Alan shouldn't have been surprised that Dillinger had raised his son to be such a miserable little shit, but he always was. There was something else going on here, there had to be, but Alan had already played his hand too strongly as it was. To flat-out ask Junior where Quorra was and what he'd done with her would make him lose whatever slim advantage he might still have. So Alan just pulled his phone out of his pocket, hoping that the dim light would hide whatever emotions his face might betray.
"I'm still trying to clean up the OS," he said. "I don't know what you did, Mr. Dillinger, but I couldn't log on upstairs. Had to come down here to download what I needed directly from the server." Aware of Junior's dark eyes on him, Alan hooked his phone into the open server. Downloaded a chunk of the OS, knowing that Junior would be able to access those logs as soon as he left - not that he thought Junior bought his story for a second.
"I'm glad to see your initiative, Mr. Dillinger." Alan finished the download, turned and walked away. Some distant part of his brain, a part in the back, a part that hadn't evolved past man's days on the savanna and in the caves, yelled at him to not take his eyes off the enemy. The back of his neck itched, as though waiting for the sword to strike. "Encom is lucky to have you."
"Why would Junior want anything to do with her?" Sam asked. It was three in the morning, and they were sitting in Alan's study. Sam had brought over his own laptop and another bag full of computer equipment and paraphernalia besides; both men were hooking everything up. Sam had never worked much with Alan, had never shown much interest though Alan had known it was there, but they worked together easily, as though they'd done this a thousand times.
"I took her to see the place day before yesterday. Junior met her. And I don't know how, but he must have figured out what she is."
"Jesus, Alan, why would you--"
"Not now," he growled. Sam wanted to press the point but kept his mouth shut - Alan didn't usually talk to the kid that way, so when he did, it actually worked. Sam carefully finished removing the shell from Alan's old computer, and they both looked down into the workings. A bit dusty, and Sam blew it clean with a can of compressed air.
"I don't see anything on."
"It was on."
It took some time. They didn't have any of the original cords and connections, and everything had to be jury-rigged from more modern equipment. They finally managed to hook the old computer up to a monitor and keyboard, and connect it through Alan's desktop to the internet. It would have been better to be able to take it to Encom, make a direct connection, but Alan had raised far too many flags already. As tense and tired and worried as he was, seeing that old flat black screen and flashing square waiting for his first command managed to make Alan's heart feel just a little bit lighter, just for a moment.
"Now what?" Sam asked, waiting for Alan to answer. When was the last time it had been like this? Alan couldn't remember. He wanted to take a moment to squeeze the kid's shoulder, glad even under these circumstances that they could share this. The years of tension and worry and power struggles, and the horrible fight over Quorra, all of it under the bridge. But Sam wasn't ready, if he ever would be; so Alan just wiped off his glasses and rested his fingers on the keyboard. A half-second to remember how to make the old commands; how much things had changed.
REQUEST: PRIORITY ACCESS TO GRID
Sam was standing behind him, and it was his hand that came down, resting on Alan's shoulder. They waited, watching the square cursor blink. It was almost hypnotic, and Alan made himself move his eyes just slightly to the right. The minutes ticked by.
"Alan? Why don't we just query the system through one of the actual computers? I don't think this is going to work."
"This is the computer she used."
"How do you know that?"
Alan didn't answer. Something had happened this morning, and Quorra had found this old computer. The answer to where she had gone was in here, he knew it. How, he couldn't begin to explain to Sam. He just knew.
QUERY: QUORRA? ARE YOU THERE?
Sam sighed behind him. "Alan..." He could tell how antsy Sam was, knew that he had a few more minutes before the kid took off again. He was just ready to repeat his query when a single letter appeared on the screen.
Sam was leaning over him now, breathing into Alan's ear. "Alan, did you type that?"
"What...what does it mean?" Alan shook his head. He ran words through his head, every word 'S' could stand for, but none seemed to have any relevance. Then two more letters joined the first.
"She. Alan, she. Does it mean Quorra? Is she Quorra?"
"I don't know, Sam." Then the letters came quickly, tripping across the screen without any pauses. Alan couldn't breathe, couldn't think. He read the words over and over again.
SHE'S HERE. HE HAS HER. I CANNOT ACCESS THE SYSTEM. THE MCP. ALAN, WE NEED YOU. WE ALL NEED YOU.
The cursor dropped down again. Blink, blink, blink. And between one blink and the next, where there was one single little rectangle, then there were four. Three across, one below. A little flashing T.
"Tron," Sam whispered.